Movie review: Looks can kill in ‘Bird Box’
Some of us need a nudge into motherhood. In the horror-fable “Bird Box,” Sandra Bullock’s Malorie requires an apocalypse. A reluctant mother-to-be, Malorie finds herself in the middle of Armageddon, facing the unknown in more ways than one.
Director Susanne Bier and screenwriter Eric Heisserer, adapting the Josh Malerman novel, imagines a world decimated by a mysterious force that if looked at causes you to commit suicide. Yup, looks really can kill.
The movie jumps between the present, with Malorie urgently warning two children not to take off their blindfolds or they will die, and five years earlier, when the reclusive painter is reeling from a breakup and ambivalent about the life growing in her belly. Her pregnancy is a mere “condition.” Her sister (Sarah Paulson) is excited, however, as fresh start for Malorie looms. Their sibling banter in the film’s opening scenes strike a comedic tone, despite news broadcasts in the background reporting unexplained mass suicides in Russia and rest of Europe. In a flash, though, the movie shifts into horror-thriller mode as pandemonium breaks out. In an extended sequence, Bier’s camera captures the carnage in the streets of some nondescript California locale. People leap in front of speeding cars, shoot themselves between the eyes, drive head-on into other vehicles, bang their heads against concrete walls until their noggins are reduced to a bloody pulp. It is crashes, explosions and mayhem galore.
Eventually, the script inserts Malorie in a house full of strangers, played by an assortment of actors, including B.D. Wong, John Malkovich, Jacki Weaver, Trevante Rhodes, Lil Rel Howery, Rosa Salazar, Danielle MacDonald and Colson Baker. Some characters will bond, some will get it on, some will doublecross, and some will give birth. The set up is Horror Movie 101, with attrition mounting until about all that’s left are Malorie and her two children, Girl (Vivien Lyra Blair) and Boy (Julian Edwards). Adding to all the clichés in Bier’s script is a late-in-the-game character who you know is bad news.
Five years later, in a last-ditch attempt for survival, Malorie blindfolds herself and the kids and sets out on a two-day canoe trek down a treacherous river to the one place left that may offer sanctuary. She speaks firmly to the kids, without an ounce of warmth in her tone. Motherhood and the innate pull to protect our offspring is the thematic heart of the film, although the horror-genre clichés might suggest otherwise. Malorie might seem like a mean mom, but “every decision I’ve made has been for them,” she says. Sometimes it just takes extraordinary events for maternal instinct to flourish.
Early on, Biers is adept at building suspense, especially when the group at the house heads to a nearby grocery for supplies. All blindfolded, they must navigate the streets in a car guided only by GPS, break into the store, grab food, gear, booze, etc., and make it home. Malkovich’s signature curmudgeonly snark makes it even better: “All of us are making the end of the world great again.”
Earlier this year “A Quiet Place” was built around the gimmick of sound, and with “Bird Box,” it is vision. Both movies are far more than their initial gimmicks might have you believe. Except “Bird Box,” which clocks in at 124 minutes, grows from sporadically riveting to tedious. Sandra the Survivalist, no stranger to playing tough-minded and strong women, can only carry the movie so far. Ultimately, the material fails her and by the end, we’re all fighting for survival.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, Jacki Weaver, Rosa Salazar, Danielle Macdonald, Lil Rel Howery, Tom Hollander, Colson Baker, BD Wong, Sarah Paulson and John Malkovich.
(R for containing some adult material.)